Hyderabad: With their morale dented after the Australian battering a couple of days ago, India received an unexpected boost to their final hopes ahead of the do or die TVS Cup triangular cricket series encounter against New Zealand with rival captain Stephen Fleming being ruled out due to injury.
The inspirational Kiwi captain pulled out because of an abdominal strain and the Indians will try to capitalise on his absence in what promises to be a pulsating floodlit encounter at the Lal Bahadur stadium. Fleming, who was suffering from the strain for nearly a month, aggravated the injury this week forcing him to sit out the crucial match. All-rounder Chris Cairns will lead the side in his absence. But Sourav Ganguly and his men, who have been far from impressive in the series, can hardly afford to be complacent against the spirited Kiwis who were quite capable of springing a surprise. The home team will be under enormous pressure going into the crucial match, billed as a virtual semi-final, as the winner will travel to the majestic Eden Gardens in Kolkata to clash with world champions Australia in the final on November 18.
The Indians, who have so far ten points from five matches like the Kiwis, have no option but to win the match on Saturday while even a tie would allow the Black Caps to scrape through due to a better head-to-head ratio. The batting line up looks very formidable for the hosts but their bowling still remains a matter of serious concern. Unless the Indian bowlers pulled up their socks, the home team may find the going tough against the Kiwis who have very good depth in batting. The bowling failure in home conditions has left captain Ganguly and coach John Wright a trifle worried and the duo must have had a word or two with the bowlers to fire them up for the crucial match. "Scores says everything.
What do I have to say after this, I don't think we bowled well in this series. We have to put up an improved performance," Ganguly said. With the bowling department faring badly, the national selectors dropped comeback man Ashish Nehra, bringing back Aavishkar Salvi into the squad. The left arm seamer was totally clueless against the marauding Aussies in the last match in Bangalore on Wednesday. Ajit Agarkar, who was dropped from the team in the last match, was likely to be included in the eleven with Rahul Dravid continuing to don the wicketkeeping gloves despite being rather unimpressive. The Lal Bahadur stadium has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Indians having posted a mammoth 376 for two in the last match against the Kiwis in 1999.
The Indians had won the match with an emphatic 174 run margin and it remains to be seen whether they can come anywhere near that performance this time around. The Indians will be relying on Sachin Tendulkar, who recorded his highest One-day score of 186 not out at this venue, to deliver the goods for the team. The batting maestro has been in tremendous form through out the tournament, while skipper Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman have come up with useful contributions.
The form of opener Virender Sehwag has been disappointing and the hosts will be hoping for a far more substantial contribution from the Delhi player who was quite capable of tearing any attack to shreds. The Kiwis have taken help of their psychologist to boost the morale of the team after they failed to beat Australia from a comfortable position. To add to their woes, the team has also received threats ahead of its tour of Pakistan forcing atleast four players to opt out of the tour. But the team management believes that it would not have any bearing on tomorrow's game. "That (threat) would not have any bearing on Saturday's match and we play this match keeping the issue aside," manager Lindsay Crocker said. While the visitors arrived in the city four days ahead of the match, Ganguly and company arrived on Thursday night after having played their last match against Australia in Bangalore. Curator V Gopal said, the pitch was conducive for runs but there was also a possibility that the ball could rise awkwardly in case of heavy dew.